Wayuu normative system, applied by the Pütchipü’üi (palabrero)


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Inscribed in 2010 (5.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

© 2009 Leiqui Uriana Henriquez, Guillermo Ojeda Jayariyu

The Wayuu community inhabits the Guajira Peninsula straddling Colombia and Venezuela. Its legislative system comprises a body of principles, procedures and rites that govern the social and spiritual conduct of the community. The system, inspired by principles of reparation and compensation, is applied by the local moral authorities, the Pütchipü’üi or palabreros (orators), who are experts in resolving conflicts and disputes between the local matrilineal clans. When problems arise, the authority of the Pütchipü’üi is sought by both parties in a dispute, the offender and those offended against. After analysing the situation, the Pütchipü’üi informs the authorities concerned of his intention to resolve the conflict peacefully. In the event that the word – Pütchikalü – is accepted, dialogue is established, wherein the Pütchipü’üi acts with diplomacy, caution and intelligence. The compensation system employs symbolism, represented primarily by the offering of necklaces made of precious stones or sacrifices of cattle, sheep and goats. Even the most serious crimes are compensated, compensations being offered at special events to which the disputing families are invited to re-establish social harmony through reconciliation. The Pütchipü’üi acquires his role by virtue of being a maternal uncle – an honoured role in the Wayuu system of matrilineal clans – and by possessing a character grounded in ethics and morals.